Sunday, July 25, 2010

Barnhart Made The Right Call

Whether you like him or not, Brian Barnhart made the right call, according to the rules, on Sunday afternoon in Edmonton.

With just 3 laps to go, Helio Castroneves held the lead over teammate Will Power in Sunday's Honda Edmonton Indy.  On the lap-92 restart, with Will Power following close behind, Castroneves entered turn 1 clearly off of the 'normal racing line' to prevent being overtaken by Power.

Castroneves was immediately black flagged and ordered to a drive-through penalty.  Ignoring the on track penalty, Castroneves finished the race, and after finally pitting, went crazy on Technical Director Kevin Blanch, and head of security, Charles Burns.  Helio was later penalized 20-seconds and sent to the tail of the lead lap, finishing 10th:
“Obviously, I disagree with the decisions made by the race officials on the last restart in today’s race, but there is no excuse for my actions after the checkered flag. I apologize to my team, our sponsors, the fans and the entire IZOD IndyCar Series community for my behavior. My actions were totally wrong and I acted inappropriately to some people who are my friends and people I respect very much. Obviously, I am a very emotional person and today I let my emotions get the better of me and I’m very sorry for that.” - Helio Castroneves
Did the 3-time Indy champ make a clear blocking move? No, but according to the rules he didn't have to.  The blocking rules from the IZOD IndyCar Series rule book are as follows:
Rule 9.3 (B) A driver must not alter his/her racing line based on the actions of pursuing Drivers or use an abnormal racing line to inhibit or prevent passing. Blocking will result in a minimum of a black flag "drive through" penalty.

Rule 7.1 (B) (4) (C) (4) The senior official shall determine the type and length of any black flag. The penalized car shall proceed to pit lane as directed by Officials and may return to the Race only upon the declaration of Officials. In the case of the Driver Violating the Rules, no work may be performed on a Car during the execution of a black flag penalty. Should any such work occur, the conditions of the penalty are unfilled and the penalty procedure must be executed again in its entirety on a subsequent lap. The penalty may not be protested and/or appealed.

Rule 9.2 (A) Race Procedure Penalties are a result of on track conduct and are generally imposed during on Track activity. If the imposition of a penalty is near or at the end of on Track activity and Driver/Car does not fulfill it, the Senior Official may reposition the Driver/Car in the posting of results or apply the penalty to subsequent on Track activity to reflect the fulfillment of the penalty. The penalty including without limitation any repositioning in a posting is non-protestable and/or appealable.
Not only is the fact that a driver can not alter his normal racing line to prevent a pass clearly spelled out in the rules, but league President of Competition and Racing Operations, Brian Barnhart, stated the same in the weekly pre-race driver meeting:
"You have plenty of options on where to put your car and we should not have any defending or blocking. Again we will be visually dividing the braking point through the entry into the corner in half. You can only be on the inside half if you are attempting to pass someone. If you are on the inside half because you are under attack from someone else, it is blocking. Don't move your car in reaction to a following car and don't impede the progress of a car with a run on you."
Cars are all in correct formation 
Will Power legaly dives to the inside to pass Helio Castroneves. Castroneves dives down, breaking the 'normal line' to prevent the overtake.
All cars are taking the 'normal line' with the exception of Castroneves and Power, who are beginning to pull back out, setting up for turn 1.
All cars are now making the T1 turn.

The debate on whether or not what transpired in the late stages at Edmonton was a block or not can continue.  But, according to the rules, as they stand, Barnhart made the correct call.  No question.


It's not that simple. He wrote (or helped write) that interpretation of blocking rules. So if it's an asinine understanding of blocking, h doesn't get credit for following the asinine interpretation - he gets flak for putting in place asinine interpretations.

Helio has always been a blocker. No way he would be that far right on the track if it wasn't to block Power. Helio got what he has deserved so many times. There is a reason he has never won a championship. Thank you IRL for putting your foot down.

Steve K
Columbus, OH

I still don't see how that was blocking....

Gotta disagree with you James with this one. Look up Harlen Fengler and Tom Binford and get back to me.

-Steve Zautke

What are you guys missing. He went out of the race line to get in
Power's way. It's as clear as day. It's so obvious. How can you all not see that?

Steve K

If Helio really had wanted to block he should have moved back up into what Barnhart calls the normal line. That would have slowed everyone's momentum and really been blocking, but by Barnhart's asinine rules it would be okay?

I seem to recall that the Champ Car series died as a result of too many dumb calls as well.

Comment #1 by Fred Hurley is correct. I actually just posted the same point on another site (ESPN).

Barnhart has no understanding of blocking, and yet he is the one writing the rule. So when his idiotic definition of "blocking" comes into play, he can say "hey, I'm only following the rules (that I wrote)."

As has been pointed out many times since Indy, where in the world did this definition of blocking come from? This has never been the rule, ever, in any series, before Barnhart came up with it. Here's blocking, simplified: When you go into a corner, you get to choose a line. If you stay on that line, you're racing clean. If you alter it, you're blocking. Here ended the lesson.

What we have now is the OFFICIALS choosing your line for you. And it is ridiculous.

Remember, we saw this at Indy, too, when cars were being penalized for somehow "blocking" on the straightaways! All because they had the temerity to drive on the "wrong side" of the imaginary line.

My question is why Barnhart selected this point in time to insert himself into the race results.

Yes, Helio blocks a lot - but he's always allowed to do it by Barnhart. Barnhart is notorious for letting drivers from the top two teams getting away with rule infractions while penalizing the others.

But why Barnhart chose this particular time to actually enforce a rule against Helio is beyond me.

Not to mention it's a badly written rule on a track that doesn't fit the spirit of the rule to begin with.

From my (admittedly naive and simplistic) point-of-view: they have this huge, wide runway racetrack, but the rules say you have to stay on a narrow designated path or you're cheating? Why can't they go anywhere?

When rules can be that arbitrary, they have too many rules. If they can't drive there, then put up a wall.

Don't make fans have to memorize a rule book.

I don't particularly like Barnhart's new definition of blocking, because it makes the racing seem micromanaged, or even a little staged. But, even if you use the older "driver chooses line and holds it" rules, Helio was still blocking.

1) He moved inside to block Power's attempted inside pass, and he admits that he did so.

2) He waited until the last moment, and jumped back outside in an attempt to drive the normal racing line, forcing Power to take an extreme outside line, and he admits that he did so.

3) He then drove a very aggressive racing line that took Power way wide, forcing him to back off and lose a position to Dixon.

If you're going to take the inside to stop somebody with run from making an inside pass, then you can't run the normal racing line; that would changing your line after having already committed to a line, which has always been against the rules.

Further, if you are mid-corner on the inside, with somebody on your outside, and you don't hold your line, and you end up forcing them to yield their line, then you've interfered with their progress in a way that obviously violates the "hold your line" rule.

Helio did not hold his line.

Helio's blocking was flagrant, and Barnhart haters gonna hate.

What is wrong here is the rule as it is written is wrong, blocking is subjective but the rule is never going to be clear so what is right and what is wrong. Taking away Helio's win was wrong, I don't really want him to win or any Penske or Gannassi car but can you image the same call being made in formula 1 or NASCAR, for that matter Salem or Eldora ? It's racing, the logic here according to Barnhart is hold your line give the inside up and be passed, who when leading would not cover the inside and who when racing would just hand the inside over ? Noone that is wanting to win would , no one that has ever raced would, Mario would protect the inside, Foyt would, Stewart would, Senna would, and we all know Earnhardt would. With this logic you might as well race slot cars and that way they must stay in their lane. Unbelievable !

The rule is farce, not racing.

So if Brian's rules say 2+2=5 we should agree? It's a dumb rule the way it is written. We've all seen Helio almost run people into walls blocking on ovals; He is one of the more severe blockers out there. But not this time.

The problem is that Barnhart has made an idiotic interpretation of what it constitutes blocking.

Here is the relevant IndyCar Rule: "A driver must not alter his/her racing line based on the actions of pursuing Drivers or use an abnormal racing line to inhibit or prevent passing."

OK, you can't use an abnormal racing line. Fine. I think we can all accept that.

The problem is that it is up to the interpretation of the steward as to what constitutes normal vs abnormal. And in no other series on Earth would Helio's line choice be considered abnormal.

Barnhart has come up with his little "I'll draw an imaginary line down the center of the track" interpretation in order to enforce that rule. However, this interpretation, as far as I can see, was created out of whole cloth by Barnhart, and does not make any sense.

Nowhere does the text of the rule say that any and all instances of a leading driver choosing the inside line will automatically be construed as blocking. Barnhart chooses to interpret it that way, and that is the problem.

What Barnhart has done is legislate where the leader may run. He explicitly says that the lead car may never choose an inside line. He must ALWAYS go outside. However, the trailing car can is free to choose whether to go inside or outside. So Barnhart is choosing the leader's line for him.

Had Castroneves first gone inside, and then changed his mind and gone outside, then it is 100% blocking, and I would be in total agreement with the call. But he wasn't called for changing his line; he was called for choosing a line Barnhart didn't like.

To the above poster who said "Helio was still blocking", I disagree. I do not see him forcing Power out at all.

When they came off the chicane before the start/finish line, the entire field was on the right-hand side of the track. Coming down the frontstretch, most of the field moved left (outside), setting up Turn 1. Helio and Power did not. They maintained their place on the right of the track.

However, while you and I can disagree about what Helio did or didn't do in this area, it is totally irrelevant, because that is NOT what Barnhart called. He called something completely different.

Helio's block was ANYTHING but "flagrant". So much so that it was non-existant. You and I can debate that, but again, it does not matter because we would be debating something that Barnhart did not call. Barnhart's actual call seems beyond debate, because it was based on such a misunderstanding of what blocking is, and how to interpret the rulebook.

By the way, I am not a Helio apologist, not even a fan. I am a fan of racing, and any time a totally misinterpreted rule has an impact on the racing itself, I get mad. And I have not been a Barnhart hater, either. Until now. He kind of annoyed me with the TV time he likes to get at Indy time trials, but I didn't understand the whole "fire Barnhart" talk. Until now.

Hello, James. I'm sorry, but I have to respectfully disagree with your conclusion here. You say that "according to the rules, as they stand, Barnhart made the correct call." However, you are incorrect for one very important reason that I think you have overlooked. You have confused, and merged together, (1) a rule, and (2) an interpretation. These are very different things.

In your post, you quote the rule first. It says that a driver cannot take an abnormal line. But the next question anyone would ask themselves after reading that is: "All right, so define a normal versus an abnormal line for me."

With that question in mind, you point out Barnhart's pre-race comments, about dividing the track with an imaginary center line. But you are giving this comment the same weight as a RULE. Nowhere in the rulebook is this "center line, leader must stay outside" listed as a rule. Rather, this is Barnhart's INTERPRETATION of what the abnormal line rule means. If this were an actual rule, and not merely the steward's interpretation, it would be listed in the text of the rule book. He would not have to repeat it in the driver's meeting before every race if the text of this rule was written down.

This is not some trivial distinction.

Admittedly, I have no way of knowing the evolution of the rule book over time. But I would be willing to bet that the definition of blocking has not substantially changed since the IRL formed in 1996. I am sure it has always said words to the effect of what was quoted.

So at some point, the chief steward must make his interpretation of what the meaning and intent of the abnormal line clause is. Barnhart has made his, and it is nonsensical, and unlike any one used in any other series. If a different chief steward was in place, he could very easily say that what Castroneves did was NOT in fact an abnormal line, but was a legitimate, normal line for the leader to choose. And again, it would only be their interpretation of what was normal or abnormal.

This is why when you say "it is the right call according to the rules," you are incorrect. Nothing in the text of the rule says what you purport it does. It is only Barnhart's interpretation that allows the call, which is a very different thing.

IF Helio blocked Power, he (Helio) should be penalized. But how was Power made whole? Dixon benefitted, while Power did not. How is that right? Obviously an anto-Penske call - and pro-Grabassi call.

The stricter "first move" interpretation of blocking came along with the power to pass feature, in the later years of Champ cars. The rules were designed to make passing easier and safer, although they are, no doubt, artificial.

The rule seems quite clear: The driver can take any line they want during the course of the race, that's their normal line, its what they spent all practice and qualifying figuring out. When they try to pass, they take a different line, inside or outside their normal line. As the line of the car they are passing changes, it is either giving room or blocking.

It is granted that the line will change somewhat as the fuel burns, the tires wear, and the track changes, but anyone can see if someone is off their normal line.

The pictures show clearly where the normal line is, and where Castroneves and Power are. I guess if video shows them always taking that line....

It was so blatant that Power's team should have complained if it was not called, except they're on the same team.

One can argue that the F1 rule allowing the lead car to block by taking the passing line is better. Perhaps it would be better still to allow almost unlimited blocking, like Nascar.

In any case, the drivers and commentators should know the rules. The broadcast was embarrassingly entertaining to watch.

Shame on me for not having read this page Sunday night when it was published. You did a great job of laying out all the facts.

And it comes as no surprise that the majority of public comments on this issue will steadfastly deny the facts anyway. Fred Hurley's assinine comments are particularly amusing, as he derides Barnhart for enforcing the rule that Tony Cotman wrote.

I have spent the last several days trying to engage members of the mob who are doing their best to tear Barnhart down, and IndyCar along with it. Had I seen the facts laid out in your article last Sunday, and then read the ignorance which was written in response, I could have saved myself a lot of futility.

Andy Bernstein

All of this dull conversation over what Indy racing has become. More proof that Brian Barnhart's inability to think out of the box points to him as the over all problem of what once was one of the greatest formulas in racing reduced to a dullard spec series.

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